There are few things more stressful than a vehicle collision. Tension is high, there may be injuries and then there’s the cost and hassle of being without a vehicle. Add in predatory towing operators and it’s a perfect storm for most drivers.
With Ontario’s Towing and Storage Safety and Enforcement Act (TSSEA) in effect from January 1, 2024, drivers facing stressful scenarios are more protected from so-called chasers (opportunistic tow operators) and their inflated costs.
Under the act, tow truck operators must be licensed by the province and follow a code of conduct to operate. TSSEA also requires tow trucks to have clear signage and provide an itemized invoice of services rendered. These regulations aim to increase transparency and protect drivers from being overcharged or scammed by unscrupulous tow truck operators. Maximum tow fee rates will also be put in place along with a consumer complaint portal.
But how will it all affect you out on the road, and what should you do if confronted by an unscrupulous tow operator?
We asked William Skorupinski, Vice President of Automotive and Mobility Services at CAANEO, and Dan Hodge, owner of Flanagan Towing – a CAA partner towing company. They shared their insights on what drivers need to know about the changes and how to protect themselves from chasers. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What does the new TSSEA mean for motorists?
On January 1, 2024, the province removed municipal bylaws regarding towing and created a towing act. That towing act will make licenses for towing operators and drivers, ensuring that drivers must go through a course at some point to know proper towing techniques.
This change is beneficial as people no longer need to review all the municipality rules and regulations that change yearly. Instead, they can go under one umbrella; it is easier for everybody.
As of 2024, there are new maximum rates towing providers can charge. A per kilometre or per call tow rate across Ontario will make it much easier and safer for our consumers.
Plus, there will be a consumer portal to respond to the government when they have infractions against a joint provider.
How is this change beneficial for towing operators?
Under the new provincial rule, tow operators could pick somebody up anywhere. It would make your business more efficient.
Previously, for example, municipal licenses were required for towing in Kemptville, and if you were driving your truck there, you would only be able to pick somebody up if you had the correct ones.
It will make things a lot smoother for drivers towing out of town and are dispatched to a car on their returning trip.
How will TSSEA impact the public?
No matter where you are in Ontario, you’ll get consistent service. You’ll be able to spot licensed towing trucks as they must have their tow number on the vehicle so you can quickly identify them.
Tow companies must provide a quote for you to sign on the charges and you need to consent them to tow your car. You will also know the maximum rates you could be charged and can choose your payment method (cash, check, credit card, or e-transfer). Working as an auto club, CAA has the “Consent to Tow” Member’s vehicles. So when the tow driver arrives on the scene, they have a tablet with information about that call, which is considered “Consent to Tow” under the provincial law.
The tow operator will tell you where they’re taking your car because it’s not always going directly to a garage. For example, if you’re in an accident, your vehicle may go to a compound until the insurance company decides where the car will get repaired.
It should give peace of mind to the person waiting for the recovery vehicle, knowing that a licensed driver who has been vetted through the Ontario government will show up.
More importantly, you don’t have to accept a tow from any tow company that offers when they’re in an accident or waiting on the side of the road. That would include a chaser or another tow truck who pretends they are who you called for help or trying to get your business on the spot because you don’t know who that person is. You can wait for the licensed towing company you called to show up and pick up your vehicle.
Let’s talk about chasers, and how do they operate.
Chasers are usually first on the scene. They talk to the person that’s been involved in the accident to try to obtain their business. People are stressed and don’t know what is happening. Instead of waiting for CAA to show up with their truck, they coerced by the chaser, which costs them dearly.
Dan, recently you arrived on scene for one of our Members and she needed to be rescued. What happened?
She was an elderly lady. I called her and told her I was seven minutes away, and she said there was another gentleman here pretending to be from CAA. I told her, he’s not telling the truth. That I’m on the way and don’t let him touch your car.
It turns out he’s already picked up the vehicle, so I told her to ask him to set it down and tell him I’m five minutes away. But he would only set it down if she were to pay him.
Then he told her to get in his truck or he would leave her there. She was still on the phone updating me with what was happening, so I said to get in the truck, and I would follow her. And then I asked if she wanted me to contact the police. She said yes, so I dialled 911 and followed them to the reporting center.
She left the truck and walked over to me at the center, and I told her everything would be okay. I sat her in my truck and got all her personal belongings.
Then I told the chaser the police were coming and to release her vehicle. I told them they had no authorization to tow it, and I asked where her signature permitting him to tow was. There was no signature, and he was in the wrong.
It happens all the time. I pull up all the accidents, and a tow truck driver tells me to leave. Of course, I only go away once I talk to the Member to see what they want to do. And if they go with them and are happy, that’s fine.
If they want me to tow, I fight for the Member to ensure they get proper service and justice when they’re getting towed.
Chasers are mostly focused on collisions. How do they make money?
It’s primarily accidents because they are big tickets for chasers to cash in on. They look for vehicles with a high chance of being impounded because that’s where they make their money. They get your vehicle in their storage, which they will charge you for several weeks before they settle with your insurance company. Plus, the chasers have a “tow out” fee and other administration fees – they pile it on, so you get a $3000 or over bill.
How can CAA Members protect themselves?
- When a Member calls us, we text or call them and tell them the name of the contractor coming. We will text or call you with a new update with the new contractor’s name if anything changes. A lot of times, the driver will call the Member to get more information.
- While you wait for the driver, stay in your vehicle as it’s the safest place to be. Let the tow truck driver, who’s a professional, come to you.
- You should always ask the tow driver the company they come from and their name to confirm. Depending on how that flatbed is positioned behind or in front of you, you may not see the company’s logos.
- If you’re in an accident on the side of the road, you do not have to be pressured into taking any tow from anybody other than the company you’ve called. You have the right to wait for the tow truck you called.
- The exception is if you’re on a 400 series highway impeding traffic. If the police force the tow, which they have a right to do, can you tell the person picking you up to go to the next exit and drop you off in a parking lot. A lot of times, this upsets the tow driver, and they’ll want $400 or $500 to tow you around the corner.
- In Ottawa, the police have contract towing for accidents, so they should be dispatching that company to clear the road and to leave it wherever the CAA Member wants. Even if the Member does get charged to move it off to the side of a road, as long as they’ve called CAA first, the towing fee paid is fully reimbursable and more importantly, they would regain control of their vehicle.
Being stuck in a broken vehicle can be stressful. Do you have any advice?
If you are stuck at a busy intersection like Carling Avenue, you might want to say yes to the first tow truck driver that arrives, even if it isn’t the one you called, as you wish to get out of there.
But you should wait for the CAA truck. We consider it our priority. We will make our best efforts to get there as quickly as possible.
For more information about the TSSEA changes and your rights when getting a tow, visit caaneo.ca/towingrights